PGL Major Stockholm preview: Legends
What can we expect from the eight squads that will start the Major in the top 16?
On Saturday, October 30, the PGL Major Stockholm Legends Stage will kick off. There, the eight best teams from the Challengers Stage will join eight Legends, with the action continuing according to the same format that was used in the first phase of the competition until eight playoff teams are found.
The regional slot allocation for PGL Stockholm was based on the previous Major, StarLadder Berlin, which results in as many as three North American squads skipping the first stage of the event and going directly to Legends: Liquid, FURIA, and Evil Geniuses. Europe also features with three Legends teams — significantly more competitive ones though —, as all three of Ninjas in Pyjamas, Vitality, and G2 are ranked within the top 6 of the world. Last but not least, the two best teams of 2021, Natus Vincere and Gambit, close out the list as the CIS representatives.
Skipping the Challengers stage is a double-edged sword, and will help certain teams while being a hindrance to others. Playing against lower-ranked teams in order to gain confidence and match fitness might've been beneficial to teams such as G2, FURIA, and Evil Geniuses, who have had poor recent results, few officials with their current five, or both. On the other hand, the likes of Natus Vincere and Ninjas in Pyjamas stand to benefit from not showing what they prepared for the Major, and the additional time to scout the standout Challengers teams such as Copenhagen Flames and FaZe will only help if they happen to cross paths.
Just like in the Challengers Stage, the 16 teams competing in Legends will have to earn three victories in the Swiss group to advance further, to the playoffs in the Avicii Arena, while three losses will send a squad packing without a crowd-match or coveted player signature stickers. The Legends Stage will use a combination of BO1 games for initial matches and BO3 games for the elimination and promotion ones.
What can we expect from the eight Legends? Scroll down to read up on our, as well as their expectations for the Major.
Natus Vincere (#1)
Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev (Major Legends Stages played: 9)
Denis "electroNic" Sharipov (Major Legends Stages played: 6)
Kirill "Boombl4" Mikhailov (Major Legends Stages played: 3)
Ilya "Perfecto" Zalutskiy (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Valeriy "b1t" Vakhovskiy (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Andrey "B1ad3" Gorodenskiy (Major Legends Stages played/coached: 9)
One question dominates all pre-Major discussions: Can Natus Vincere finally win it?
The stalwart organization is the only one that was present at the top 16 of every Major that took place, reached the grand final three times, but the title from the world championship of Counter-Strike remains elusive. The team's central figure, s1mple, has a similar record, faltering in two grand finals — once with Liquid and once with NAVI.
But things are different this time. Never before have Natus Vincere started a Major as the highest-ranked team in the world and the unanimous favorites for the title. Their status is warranted, they won five notable titles in 2021 and cemented themselves as the #1 team in the hybrid online-LAN era, eclipsing the youngsters from Gambit with the addition of b1t and the return of occasional offline events.
It goes without saying that s1mple is a player to be reckoned with, but his individual level ahead of the Major is nothing short of terrifying. After finishing as the runner-up to Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut on the ranking of best players of the for 2019 and 2020, the Ukrainian looks determined to settle the score in 2021. He boasts a 1.34 rating across the year and has already won five MVPs, including those from the biggest tournaments that were held so far.
Individuals don't win Majors, though, and that is why it is important to note that the s1mple has a better supporting cast than ever, at least in terms of individual skill. The transition from NAVI Junior to the main squad was gradual for b1t, but when he was eventually given Egor "flamie" Vasilyev's spot, the 18-year-old headshot machine proved he deserved it. Utility players Boombl4 and Perfecto have gotten better and better at opening and closing rounds, respectively, with electroNic awakening from his online-era slumber at the perfect time. To tie it all together, standing behind them will be one of the region's most experienced coaches, B1ad3.
"Of course, we are aiming to win the Major. There are a lot of serious contenders and it is not gonna be easy, but we believe that we have a big chance to win."
It is not just that Natus Vincere have been so good, it is also the glaring issues that practically every other team at the event has which makes the CIS squad the favorites for the title. However, they too do have one: their young trio of Boombl4, Perfecto, and b1t have no experience winning big arena events. Can the pressure of thousands of cheering fans get to them and leave Natus Vincere and s1mple without the long-desired trophy?
Nicolai "device" Reedtz (Major Legends Stages played: 15)
Fredrik "REZ" Sterner (Major Legends Stages played: 3)
Nicolas "Plopski" Gonzalez Zamora (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Hampus "hampus" Poser (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Linus "LNZ" Holtäng (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Erik "ztr" Gustafsson (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Björn "THREAT" Pers (Major Legends Stages played/coached: 2)
The sole representatives of a once-great Counter-Strike nation, Ninjas in Pyjamas will be defending Sweden's honor at PGL Major Stockholm. After a few tumultuous months, the signing of Danish superstar device has started to deliver on its promise, making them a serious contender at the biggest event of the year.
device's first half-year in Ninjas in Pyjamas was detailed in a separate article, but the key takeaway is that the sniper has hit his stride at the perfect time, pushing the team to their first title since IEM Oakland 2017 and highest world ranking since 2016, when Patrik "f0rest" Lindberg, Christopher "GeT_RiGhT" Alesund, Richard "Xizt" Landström, and Adam "friberg" Friberg were still Ninjas.
It is not all about the Danish import, as the domestic forces has a lot to offer too. hampus is defined by his unpredictability, both as a player and caller, and when he is on point Ninjas in Pyjamas are as close to unstoppable as it gets. What he lacks in consistency is covered by the team's longest-standing member REZ, who has grown into a reliable star of the team.
"I would say our main goal is just to get to the arena. Once we are there, we aim for a final which I think is realistic."
On paper, Ninjas in Pyjamas should be a real contender for the title, sitting on an 11-match win streak across IEM Fall and BLAST Groups, but it is impossible to put them in the same category as Natus Vincere. The Swedes have only recently reached a high level, having looked like an unfinished project for most of the year, but could sell us on a potential Major win if they continue delivering in the Legends stage of the tournament. The lack of experience at this level and a heavy reliance on Ancient, a map where we can expect teams to reveal some tricks they have been keeping up their sleeves for the Major, are potential pitfals for Ninjas in Pyjamas.
Richard "shox" Papillon (Major Legends Stages played: 15)
Dan "apEX" Madesclaire (Major Legends Stages played: 13)
Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut (Major Legends Stages played: 2)
Kévin "misutaaa" Rabier (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Jayson "Kyojin" Nguyen Van (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Alexandre "bodyy" Pianaro (Major Legends Stages played: 6)
Rémy "XTQZZZ" Quoniam (Major Legends Stages played/coached: 2)
For a team that was super consistent in the second half of 2020, it was shocking to see Vitality's struggles this year which eventually led to the removal of Cédric "RpK" Guipouy and the signing of another youngster in Kyojin. While the 22-year-old is still to prove that he deserves to play in a team aiming to be the best in the world, the blossoming of misutaaa, an ever-dangerous shox, and the prodigious ZywOo (1.28 rating in 2021) add up for a threatening team.
What is more, the trio of shox, apEX, and ZywOo is as proven on LAN as it gets. At an event where most teams will have two or three Major rookies, if not complete LAN rookies, in that aspect Vitality will have an edge over most teams in Stockholm.
"I do think our team is at the top. If we play our best and we're focused on the task at hand with good communication and a good atmosphere on the server we can beat any team in the world, although these days it's very close and all teams can beat each other."
Based on recent results that include finishing second to Natus Vincere in ESL Pro League Season 14, topping their group at BLAST Premier Fall, and placing third at IEM Fall, Vitality are a shoo-in for a playoffs appearance. Their final placing will depend on who they face in the bracket, an in-form Natus Vincere, Ninjas in Pyjamas, or potentially even Astralis could be a real threat, but expect them to come out on top against less LAN-proven sides such as Heroic or Gambit in an arena setting.
Abay "HObbit" Khassenov (Major Legends Stages played: 4)
Sergey "Ax1Le" Rykhtorov (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Vladislav "nafany" Gorshkov (Major Legends Stages played:0)
Timofey "interz" Yakushin (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Konstantin "groove" Pikiner (Major Legends Stages played/coached: 0)
Rounding out the world top 4 is the revelation of the past 12 months and one of the most exciting teams of the online era — Gambit. The squad that had their coming of age, evolving from Gambit Youngsters to the main squad with the addition of PGL Major Krakow winner HObbit at the end of 2020, delivers both on an individual and tactical level.
Winning five notable titles this year helped the young squad spend 14 weeks at the top of the world rankings, with three of their players earning two MVPs each showcasing the depth of talent the squad possesses. The calculated AWPer sh1ro, star rifler Ax1Le, and experienced X-factor HObbit can all turn rounds on their head single-handedly. An aggressive and fearless in-game leader in nafany complements that trio, as does designated support player interz whose survivability sets his team up for success.
"I don't like to make predictions, but our primary task is to advance to the playoffs, and then we'll see ;)"
While most will focus on sh1ro and Ax1Le, comparing them with Natus Vincere's one-two punch provided by s1mple and electroNic, it is HObbit that is going to be the most important piece of the puzzle at the Major. The 27-year-old has gone through a renaissance after returning to Gambit, playing as good — if not better — than in what was supposed to be the prime of his career. Performing well individually on the server and priming his teammates for success off of it will be key for Gambit as the second-youngest team (average age 21.8 years) takes on their first Major championship.
Nikola "NiKo" Kovač (Major Legends Stages played: 9)
Audric "JACKZ" Jug (Major Legends Stages played: 2)
François "AMANEK" Delaunay (Major Legends Stages played: 1)
Nemanja "huNter-" Kovač (Major Legends Stages played: 1)
Nemanja "nexa" Isaković (Major Legends Stages played: 1)
Kenny "kennyS" Schrub (Major Legends Stages played: 14)
Damien "maLeK" Marcel (Major Legends Stages played/coached: 3)
Just like s1mple and ZywOo, NiKo is one of the all-time great CS:GO players that is yet to win a Major. Just like s1mple and ZywOo, NiKo heads into the event in spectacular form, boasting a 1.30 rating over the last three months. Unfortunately for the Bosnian, G2's shape ahead of their trip to Sweden is abysmal, and to see them challenge for the Major title would be a miracle.
With this exact lineup, G2 have been really good at times. Placing second at IEM Cologne elevated them to third place in the world, selling many on the idea that AMANEK's AWPing combined with JACKZ's entry work could be the solution that was sought after since the signing of NiKo from FaZe a year ago. The season ended on a high, but the team that returned from the summer break that followed was nothing like the one we saw in Germany.
G2 didn't look convincing, but at least got the job done at IEM Fall, the Major-qualifying event. However, that small positive spot was surrounded by failures in the second half of the year: a 0-5 record in the group stage of ESL Pro League, elimination from BLAST Groups, and a loss to MAD Lions in the Showdown which means that the team will miss out on the finals in Copenhagen.
"The goal is to hit playoffs and try to ride on the momentum we created getting there. LAN is our comfort zone and we showed it repeatedly, let's hope we do the same here."
The fact that G2 is the oldest team at the Major could give insight into at least a part of the problem, as consistent firepower has been lacking from the trio of AMANEK, nexa, and JACKZ, but a lack of fragging could also be put down to role issues. Despite being on the older side, the team also has minimal Major and arena experience outside of NiKo - which could prove detrimental should they reach playoffs.
This again brings us back to the team's star NiKo, whose cousin huNter- will be the only member of he can rely on to put in big numbers. Will that be enough to outweigh G2's inconsistency, communication issues, a tendency for blunders, and a lack of killer instinct to close out games? With so many problems, making the playoffs would be a good result for the international squad.
Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo (Major Legends Stages played: 11)
Jonathan "EliGE" Jablonowski (Major Legends Stages played: 8)
Jake "Stewie2K" Yip (Major Legends Stages played: 6)
Keith "NAF" Markovic (Major Legends Stages played: 5)
Michael "Grim" Wince (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Jarosław "pashaBiceps" Jarząbkowski (Major Legends Stages played: 12)
Steve "jokasteve" Perino (Major Legends Stages played/coached: 0)
The effects of Counter-Strike moving online have been disproportionately felt by teams based in North America, as all of their top-tier competition this year happened on European soil. Maintaining a high level of competitiveness while travelling back and forth between wasn't an easy task, as proven by the fact that Liquid are the only team from the region ranked within the top 15 as the Major kicks off.
The weights of North America are on the backs of EliGE and co., who are looking like a reasonable shout to make playoffs after battling through the BLAST Showdown bracket, placing third in IEM Fall NA, and top 8 at ESL Pro League.
"At the Major, our end goal is to win it and we do believe that we can. At the very least we need to be making a good appearance in the semi-finals. We have had a lot of decent performances here and there where we are so close to hitting the mark, but fell flat, and I believe that we are able to fix the hiccups that are causing the performance problems for this Major. I haven't been doing my part as well as I should have been doing the past couple of months and it is as clear as ever for me what I have to work on and the steps that I have to take to make it there"
The in-game leadership duties have been given back to FalleN, freeing up Stewie2K to play some of his best CS in a long time (1.16 rating since EPL), while the duo of NAF and EliGE remains one of the scariest in the game and are expected to hit their stride at the tournament of this stature.
Players stating that there are clashing ideas on how to play the game is a cause for concern, however, especially considering their history of mental collapses and the fact coach Eric "adreN" Hoag won't be with the team at the event. Should such disasters not happen, Liquid could be a dark horse for the event, leveraging their breadth of experience (30 Majors played, 3 won across four core players) into a deep run.
Andrei "arT" Piovezan (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Yuri "yuurih" Santos (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Vinicius "VINI" Figueiredo (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
André "drop" Abreu (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Lucas "decenty" Bacelar (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Marcos "tacitus" Castilho (Major Legends Stages played/coached: 0)
Brazil's best team, and at times over the past two years, the best squad of all of Americas, arrives at the Major with modest expectations. The reason for it is that, after almost a year, FURIA haven't found a way to fill the gap left by Henrique "HEN1" Teles's departure to O PLANO, where he would reunite with his twin brother Lucas "LUCAS1" Teles.
Experiments with Paytyn "junior" Johnson and Lucas "honda" Cano both failed, leaving arT and co. to turn to another academy player in drop. The second-youngest player at the Major has shown some potential so far, but similarly to LNZ in Ninjas in Pyjamas, seems to just be filling a void until the post-Major roster shuffles.
The timing of FURIA's rise to prominence means that they are another team with limited experience on the big stages, and will be missing their linchpin, coach Nicholas "guerri" Nogueira, as he sits out the Major due to his coaching bug ban.
"The goal is of course winning the Major (laughs), but we understand that our team isn't at the peak so our main focus is reaching playoffs. After that, we can certainly say winning the Major is on the board."
Not all is dark for FURIA, though. Their core four members have been together extremely long, nearly four years, which will provide a fair bit of chemistry as they try to pull off a couple of upsets. Add that to arT's aggression which remains difficult to deal with for many teams, KSCERATO's form since the player break that has been amazing, and FURIA can't be completely written off from a playoff appearance.
Evil Geniuses (#37)
Peter "stanislaw" Jarguz (Major Legends Stages played: 5)
Vincent "Brehze" Cayonte (Major Legends Stages played: 2)
Tsvetelin "CeRq" Dimitrov (Major Legends Stages played: 2)
Owen "oBo" Schlatter (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Michał "MICHU" Müller (Major Legends Stages played: 0)
Damian "daps" Steele (Major Legends Stages played/coached: 2)
A more casual Counter-Strike fan that has tuned out of the competitive scene during the online period could easily take a look at Evil Geniuses' squad and think that they are serious contenders at the event. After all, the core of the NRG team that reached top 4 at StarLadder Berlin still remains (stanislaw - Brehze - CeRq), with the additions of young talent oBo and highly touted Pole MICHU not looking like massive downgrades from Ethan "Ethan" Arnold and Tarik "tarik" Celik.
That fan would be massively wrong, though, as Evil Geniuses have been far from a competitive side in 2021. Them even making the Major was somewhat of a shock considering their results, with their world ranking (No. 37 in the world) painting a good picture of how far the mighty have fallen.
There is no running away from the fact that the team is in crisis, and some of their poor results this year can be put down to the usage stand-ins repeatedly (Teodor "SPELLAN" Nikolov and daps stepped in for the team), but even when the full five was available, few were left impressed.
"We are hoping to be more competitive than we have in recent times and will try our best to win some games."
The biggest positive for Evil Geniuses is that they have little to lose and no pressure on them, as the community has seemingly given up on the roster. A miracle would need to happen for them to reach playoffs, and that is probably the only way we see the same five players continuing under the EG banner into 2022.